E-Cigarettes: What You Need to Know

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Four red circles with red diagonal line through word or image of e-cigarette.

Update (January 2020): Government Regulation of E-cigarettes 

In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a rule for e-cigarettes and their liquid solutions. Because e-cigarettes contain nicotine derived from tobacco, they are now subject to government regulation as tobacco products. In December 2019, the federal government raised the legal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, and in January 2020, the FDA issued a policy on the sale of flavored vaping cartridges. 

Update (November 2019): Reports of Deaths Related to Vaping

The FDA has alerted the public to thousands of reports of serious lung illnesses associated with vaping, including dozens of deaths. They’re working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the cause of these illnesses. The CDC has posted an information page for consumers.

For the latest information (as of April 2020), read this blog post.

Ever since vaping products, also known as e-cigarettes (like JUUL), first appeared, people have debated whether they’re a positive development. Teens are weighing in: A recent study found that 73 percent of teens think e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes.

What does the scientific evidence say?

Do e-cigs have benefits?

  • Protecting the lungs? E-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, so some people think they may not be as harmful to the lungs as other tobacco products. It’s too early to be sure that’s true.
  • Fewer deaths? Research has found that smokers who switch to e-cigs might be consuming fewer harmful chemicals than those found in tobacco. So some think that e-cigs might reduce the number of smoking-related deaths.
  • Help people quit smoking? Some studies have said that e-cigs may help people quit using tobacco completely, when they switch to vaping. Other research has found that e-cigs may help people consume less tobacco.

But what about the risks?

  • Addiction potential. Some researchers worry that e-cigs have a lot more dangers than benefits. For starters, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, just like tobacco does. Nicotine can lead to addiction.
  • Inhaling metals. A recent study found that certain e-cig brands contain high levels of metals like nickel and chromium, which might come from the heating coils. When these metals are inhaled, they can be toxic (poisonous) and potentially lead to cancer.
  • Gateway drug. Several studies have found that some teens would not have used tobacco if they hadn’t used e-cigs first. 
  • Delivering toxic chemicals. The liquid in e-cigs—whether or not it’s flavored—can be toxic.

The bottom line? For people looking to quit using tobacco, e-cigarettes might be helpful. But if you’re a teen who doesn’t smoke, they could eventually just hook you on tobacco. We’ll share updates on these tough questions as researchers discover more facts.

Learn more: it’s risky to use e-cigs—whatever they look like.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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